An Interview with Artist Janice Roberson Connolly
View Connolly's work at The Shops at Mother Road Market
Last week, I wrote about some ways to celebrate Black History Month in Tulsa. This list included visiting LTO/MKT at The Shops at Mother Road Market. LTO/MKT is currently featuring products and art by Black-owned businesses and Black artists. I bought a beautiful pair of earrings and some fantastic lip balm. And, I was excited to learn that one of my Facebook friends, Janice Roberson Connolly, had some photographs on display! They are part of a larger series called “I Am Here, Tulsa.” Her work is beautiful, and I knew that her whole family is creative. So I wanted to ask her more about her “I Am Here, Tulsa” series as well as how to encourage creativity in your kids!
A huge “Thank you” to Janice for taking the time to answer my questions! Besides her work as a photographer, she has three children in distance learning – Hannah, 15, Catherine, 14, and Joshua, 10. She works full-time as the Director of Marketing & Design for Crossover Community Impact. Crossover is a nonprofit dedicated to working “alongside our neighbors in North Tulsa to take a comprehensive approach to seeing the Hawthorne Neighborhood (36th St. N. and Peoria Ave.) develop and flourish to the glory of God.” But more about that in our interview below.
TR: Besides your work as a photographer, do you have a day job, and what does that look like?
JRC: Yes, I am the Director of Marketing & Design for Crossover Community Impact.
I am basically the storyteller for all of the good works that Crossover is doing within the North Tulsa community. I create & design their magazines, newsletters, webpages, print materials, and social media posts for all 7 organizations and their individual programs. I also photograph and create short videos that tell their stories as well. It’s a very creative job.
TR: Can you tell me about your artistic background?
JRC: Yes, I have a design degree from Auburn University, and I received my hands-on experience from my service in the Air Force. After the Air Force, I had a Portrait and Design business in Frisco, Texas, for about 8 years before we moved to Tulsa to work with the Crossover organization.
TR: What can you tell me about your I Am Here, Tulsa series? (And congratulations on selling out opening weekend!!)
JRC: Thank you, it’s so great to get established as a newer Tulsa artist after creating art in Texas for so long!
“I Am Here…Makenzie” by Janice Roberson Connolly
TR: What is the motivation behind your work/artist’s statement?
JRC: My style of photography was inspired by a trip to Kenya in 2012. In 2013, I had a show in Dallas, displaying my work from Africa. The show centered around the beautiful women and children within the small village of Muchakos. It was called “I Am Here.” When I moved back to north Tulsa, I was equally struck by the beauty of our people in north Tulsa. I remember growing up with the stories of Black Wall Street and what that community once was. I wanted to do a portrait series that would highlight the beauty of the residents that I see within our community today. I wanted to show the silent strength and resilience that I see as they consistently try to overcome obstacles unique to being from an underserved community.
TR: I saw the close-up you featured on Facebook of the boy wearing the North Tulsa flag bowtie. What perceptions/misperceptions do you think people have of North Tulsa?
JRC: I lived in Frisco, Texas, for the last 16 years. When I was thinking of moving back to north Tulsa to help within my old community, I was met with resistance from individuals who told me to stay where I was at. They listed the reasons such as there not being grocery stores, desirable housing or neighborhoods, no academically challenging schools, and run-down surroundings.
But I know Crossover, my organization, has been on the ground working for over 15 years changing the narrative. They have been recruiting people to come live and work within the community for years to join them in this effort to restore its community. They have been making a difference, and I wanted to be a part of that difference. In my Air Force days, I learned that we are only as strong as our weakest area. By working together, a stronger north Tulsa is a better Tulsa overall.
“I Am Here…Charlee” by Janice Roberson Connolly
I chose the north Tulsa flag because we are a thriving community of honest and hardworking individuals, and for that I am proud. A person being from north Tulsa doesn’t have to be perceived in a negative light. I proudly grew up from north Tulsa and am a Booker T. Washington graduate. I have an MBA, had a career in the Air Force, was a successful entrepreneur, and now I am back to give what I have to this community to help the next generation of kids. There are many good things happening here. That young man, Charlee, who I photographed is a beautiful and bright superstar that is full of potential. He is progressively moving forward to being an outstanding citizen and deserves every opportunity that his peers in Greater Tulsa are getting. His portrait, “I Am Here…Charlee,” is simple. It’s his highlight.
TR: How did the collaboration work with stylist Kenya Carter?
JRC: Kenya Carter is an amazing stylist who I went to Booker T Washington with, turned an accomplished professional in the fashion industry. I have been watching her work for a while. Last year, I was able to meet up with her to talk about my vision for “I Am Here, Tulsa.” I wanted to play within the time periods of 1921 through the present day. The 1921 date is significant because it was when the Tulsa Race Massacre left its indelible mark on all Tulsans from then on. I wanted all of my work to reflect the words I AM HERE, as well as elements of north Tulsa from those time periods. Kenya has generously contributed with costuming.
TR: Where did you find the young models for your work?
JRC: The models are everyday north Tulsa individuals who live in the community. They were curious and excited to model. Everyone was eager to show a brighter side of north Tulsa. It’s exciting to look at them and to conceptualize how to display the beauty of each individual. I believe God designed and loves each of us.
“I Am Here…Cobee” by Janice Roberson Connolly
TR: What do you have planned for the upcoming November show?
JRC: My November show will be the full “I Am Here, Tulsa” series. It will feature and highlight the many beautiful residents that still reside in north Tulsa in spite of the many challenges the community faces. Details are forthcoming.
TR: People can currently see your work at LTO/MKT. I believe your husband also has some work featured here. Which pieces are his and do you want to say anything about him/his work?
JRC: Yes, my husband is an incredible artist of 20+ years. His beautiful, colorful 48” x 60” pieces on display are Ancestry and La Gente (The People Know). They are the first pieces that you see when you walk into LTO/MKT. He has a great series as well. I am a portrait artist and he is more in the worlds of painting, drawing, and collage, a world of layered imagery. Fun fact, those pieces are actually multiple layers of painted content, drawn content, and digital content finished out with floorboards from the Cain’s Ballroom floor. It’s fantastic!
TR: Where can people find your work online/follow you on social media?
TR: The LTO/MKT collection this month features Black-owned businesses and Black artists. Would you like to shout-out any of your favorite local Black-owned businesses or artists?
JRC: My favorites of course are my husband, David Connolly, and I have been really impressed with the Black Moon collection of artists as well. I look forward to getting to know them as I relearn Tulsa.
TR: How has COVID changed things for you, creatively?
JRC: COVID has changed a lot for us. In addition to my full-time job, I am homeschooling 3 kiddos with the help of a tutor. I can only shoot on weekends. It’s much harder to shoot as we are keeping social distancing and masks in effect. I have to spread out my number of sessions, and I limit my number of sessions per person. I am immunocompromised and have to be extremely careful. A plus of not shooting as much is that I am able to get all of my creative planning done. I can get creative with my kids. They are used to me posing them and photographing them. The extra time has helped me catch up on the administrative side of the art business.
TR: I remember seeing posts on social media at the beginning of COVID, and it seems like some people were finding it easier to be more creative, while others found it more challenging. Have you noticed that personally, one way or the other?
JRC: I have been fortunate to have loved ones who have overcome their COVID illnesses so for me, extra time to think, plan, meditate, and just be still has been my plus side, if any, to COVID. My heart is with those who are dealing with sick love ones, death, and job losses. This has been a surreal and somber time.
TR: Is it hard to find and make the time to be creative in the middle of distance learning and managing a day job? Where does that fall in terms of priorities, and why? [I asked this because I sometimes feel guilty when trying to do creative things that don’t directly involve Joss! But they bring me joy.]
JRC: Yes, it is extremely hard. My job and family are my first priorities. I really have to juggle creative work in the evenings and on the weekends. I do feel guilty all of the time because I used to be a full-time stay-at-home mom and could engage them as much as I wanted. When we moved to Tulsa, we knew as a family that we were entering a life of service as local missionaries. My kids were on board and each help in their own ways in the north Tulsa community. Regarding my creative work, I have been fortunate to have my family in my pod that can watch my kids when I need to create.
TR: My son often gets frustrated when drawing, and even though we tell him it’s okay to make mistakes…it seems like he’s ready to give up the instant something goes wrong sometimes. Have you experienced this with your own kids? What do you tell them, or how do you encourage them to move forward?
JRC: Yes, I believe all artists have experienced that level of frustration with mistakes. Our kids are no different. We encourage them to keep trying through repetition. Our kids have always loved to draw, paint and sculpt. My son recently has been experiencing a level of frustration because he compares his art with his sisters’ drawings. We just encourage him to practice what he likes, as they each have their own styles. My oldest daughter, Hannah (15), is a gifted portrait artist but she, from an early age, practiced drawing eyes, noses, ears, mouths, skin texture from books that she would check out from the library. My other daughter, Cate (14), loves to draw whimsical scenes and anime with poems and lyrics. She makes the best homemade 3-D cards. Joshua is more of a sculpture, architecture-type creator. He loves building.
TR: We have a guest blogger this month who’s been doing a series on “love” – instilling a love of education and a love of nature in kids. What advice would you give to parents who are hoping to instill a love for creativity in their kids? What do you do to nurture your own kids’ creativity?
JRC: Every kid has unique talents and abilities they ultimately gravitate toward. I encourage every parent to introduce their kids to all the different genres of art and let them figure out what they like. Then, foster that gift. We have been avid art lovers before kids. We have always taken our kids with us to art galleries, museums, and festivals. We taught them gallery manners before they were out of strollers. They even made a couple of YouTube videos at one point explaining the artist’s exhibits to their homeschool friends. Our love of art has just been passed on to them. Our dream is to one day before they graduate high school take them to New York and just do an endless week of gallery, museum, and musical theater hopping!
TR: Do you ever create art as a family?
JRC: Our family’s display of love is through card making. That has been passed on through David’s side of the family. They have passed on the best homemade cards you could ever think of. I look forward to birthdays and holidays because everyone gets their creative juices going with a combination of drawing, painting, sculpting, etc., in an effort to make the perfect card.
TR: What are some of your favorite creative things to do in Tulsa?
JRC: We love the Tulsa Arts District. When we lived in Texas, we were too far away to enjoy the benefits of the art community on a regular basis. We love all of the museums and galleries here. Our favorite place on Sunday afternoons is ahha. We just go tour the exhibits and have quiet time to create whatever we want. It’s has become one of our favorite family activities.
Thank you again to Janice Roberson Connolly for answering my questions! View her work at LTO/MKT through the month of February. And follow @janiceconnollyportraiture on Instagram to make sure you don’t miss details about the upcoming “I Am Here, Tulsa” exhibition in November.
Finally, let us know in the comments: Does your family create art together? What are some of your family’s favorite local creative outlets?